Monday, January 26, 2015

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (Game Boy Advance) Review

In my opinion, the Legend of Zelda is a series of ups and downs (usually within the same game). The Wind Waker era was a huge down, and I never really had much interest in The Minish Cap. However, who can resist when you find the game at Goodwill right after you install a backlit screen (I'll write about that some day) in your original Game Boy Advance? I'll gladly pay $3 for that.

My main disappointment in the series stems from the over-reliance on gimmicks. This seems to be a recurring theme in recent Nintendo games. For Zelda, we've had transformative masks, a sailboat, the Four Sword, the titular Minish Cap, the wolf transformation in Twilight Princess, a boat again combined with an all out touchscreen assault... and whatever obstructs you in Skyward Sword and Spirit Tracks (I haven't played those two, but I did recently buy Skyward Sword). I'll say that I love Majora's Mask though, as the masks didn't really fundamentally change the game or hamper it. I said in my God of War review that there's something to be said for perfecting the wheel instead of reinventing it and this is something that Nintendo has no grasp on.

I mean, really, how good would it be to just get a straightforward Zelda adventure through Hyrule again? No fucking around, just doing what you need to do to kill Ganon.

Thankfully, Capcom developed The Minish Cap. Capcom knows not to fuck with a good thing too much. Well, not really. They knew for about 7 years before they started up with Street Fighter again.

Fuck you guys.

The gimmick of the hour for Minish Cap is the ability to shrink down in size. Thankfully, this gimmick is limited to puzzle solving and exploration. It is used in some boss battles, but it works out surprisingly well. The artwork for the areas you can only access when you're shrunk down is really quite stunning, too.

It's good enough that it makes the rest of the areas almost disappointing. It's the same 2D Zelda you've always known, with a brighter coat of paint. The art style is similar to The Wind Waker, which is probably the best thing they could've taken from that game.

Minish Cap is the second game in the series chronology, following Skyward Sword. It explores the origin of the Four Sword, which approximately no one gave a fuck about since no one had four friends and four GBAs and four copies of the GBA version of A Link to the Past to actually play Four Swords. There's no Ganon here, instead your enemy is the wizard Vaati, who promptly turns Zelda to stone. Shit goes down and Link gets paired up with Ezlo, a bird-like thing who is actually your hat. He allows Link to shrink down to be the same size as the Minish, a race of microscopic beings that live in Hyrule. They help Link to take his sword and infuse it with four elements, making it the Four Sword. 

Unfortunately, the quest is neither lengthy or difficult. There are more than four dungeons, but they're all short and there's really nothing challenging about them. It takes about 6 or so hours to finish the game. The game lacks the expansiveness to fuel the feeling that you're really on some grand adventure. It has nothing to do with the fact that it's 2D, either. Hell, the original Zelda on NES feels like it plays out on a grander scale.

There are attempts to make the game longer but they don't offer enough to bring you back into it. You'll collect things called Kinstones from chests and cutting down grass, which you combine with an NPC's Kinstone (there are also slots on walls for them in some places) for some kind of a reward somewhere on the map. Initially, hunting down Kinstones and matching them up is a fun distraction but it eventually reveals itself as shallow busywork. The vast majority of the rewards are simply not worth the effort of finding the person who has a Kinstone to match and then traveling to the location of the item. The other piece of busywork is collecting shells and trading them for figurines. This really isn't anything complicated, but getting the figurines is what's tedious.

You go to a store to exchange the shells. You walk to the right and pick how many shells you want to give for your random figure. There's an animation for this. Then the figurine appears across the store. There's an animation for this. Then you walk over and pick up the figure. There's an animation for this. Christ almighty, what a waste of fucking time. Again, it's just fucking busywork and it's not worth collecting them all.

As far as the gameplay goes, it's your traditional 2D Zelda. The usual weapons appear, the usual enemies appear. Like all Zelda games, there'll be a new item that the game will have an over-reliance on. Our culprit here is the Wind Jar. It either sucks things up, or blows gusts of air. Predictably, this plays into a lot of puzzles. Infuriatingly, it becomes necessary for moving around certain environments. You'll be given a leaf on the water, and you've got to use the gust jar to blow yourself (ha) around, like a sail boat without a sail. It's.. tedious (there's a pattern here). The other thing of note here is the Four Sword. As you add elements, you'll be able to make copies of Link (so if you have two of the four elements, you have two Links). You'll need your copies to push blocks or defeat some bosses. There's a few bosses that require you to do this to beat them, and it is infuriating. You have to charge your sword fully in order to spawn your copies, and then stand on specific tiles. If you get hit, your sword stops charging. If one of your copies gets hit, they all disappear. You can figure out how that goes if you put it in the context of a boss.

I've done a good job of pointing out the bad, but there's a considerable amount of good as well. The music is truly excellent, and it's a bit shocking at what the GBA can do with sound. While the dungeons are short, the level design is excellent. It's always clear what you need to do, which is important for a 2D game. 

I really had a whole lot of fun with the game. Most of the things I pointed out as negatives are things that you can (for the most part) ignore. The price is really the barrier to entry here. I couldn't recommend this as a $30 game, which is the typical asking price for a legitimate copy on eBay. There's a lot of fake cartridges out there for this game, but if you've got a keen eye then this may drive down the price of legitimate copies. If you can have it for less than that or if you don't mind a pirated cart, then I'd say it's worth it. It's good, but there's just not a lot of game here.

The Score: 8/10

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